Don “Jac” Jacaruso, artist of the week, balances dual careers in music and technology.Photo by Marshall Smith
Don “Jac” Jacaruso, artist of the week, balances dual careers in music and technology. Photo by Marshall Smith

Local singer/musician Jac Jacaruso is a warm and familiar presence in Idyllwild’s music and art scene. There are two words that best describe Jacaruso, “duality” and “family” – “duality” in how his career has played out and “family” as the centerpiece of his life.

Born in Queens and raised in Brooklyn, Jacaruso remembers his parents as “the most loving and wonderful parents one could ever imagine.” He recounts how his dad, who worked in a milk factory, was a music enthusiast who played very basic violin and accordion and listened to Tony Bennett albums all the time. “My dad would take out the accordion at family parties and we would all sing along,” said Jacaruso. “We never had much, but one Christmas mom and dad somehow managed to offer my beloved brother and me a used acoustic guitar and a plastic snare drum to share.”

For Jacaruso, that’s when it began – his love of the guitar, the human voice and playing for others. Another seminal event that he describes as life changing for him and his brother, similar to a “lunar landing or a lightning bolt out of the heavens that altered our DNA” was watching the Beatles when they first performed on Ed Sullivan’s television show. “The Beatles were revolutionary and really pushing hard against the morality of the times and their songwriting just opened me up to music in a big way,” he recalled. “When the album ‘Pet Sounds’ came out by the Beach Boys, my love for the human voice got deeper with those beautiful rich harmonies, in a way taking me back to my dad’s Tony Bennett recordings.”

Jacaruso played bar gigs five nights a week in and around New York City while attending college during the day. “Both mom and dad passed away early in my life so being able to make a living somehow and survive was front and center,” he said. He began to tie the threads that would weave throughout his life – love of music, love of family and economic survival.

Early on, Jacaruso was in a band called “Topper” with some members who played with Billy Joel. He also started playing with a major songwriter named Desmond Child, who had a band called Desmond Child and Rouge. “I formed an original band called ‘The News’ with some amazing NYC musicians and we started to make some noise around town and up the East coast,” he said.

At the same time, his day job, working in information management and technology, was also growing legs – the “duality” in his career was beginning to emerge. “I started to develop more technical skills in computer programming and the combination of music and technologies started to intersect in my life,” Jacaruso recalled. “I went back to school at night and took computer science classes and started to develop a career in this area along with my continued passion for music.”

A turning point came for Jacaruso when “The News,” with what he described as phenomenal players and a gifted lead singer, did not get signed to a record label. “There was a lot of interest, but the ‘slot’ we filled was already occupied by Journey and Foreigner, and we did not get signed. I thought, if we are this good and did not get signed by a label, what am I really going to do?

“I started getting calls for different [technology] opportunities at various companies and over many years worked my way up to my current position as CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at a financial firm in the New York/New Jersey area. The duality of the business world and music continued throughout my life.”

The other thread, “family” also continued and is in fact why Jacaruso came to Idyllwild. Jac and wife Mimi, herself a gifted artist and designer, moved to Idyllwild so that their son Luca, a budding pianist, could attend the Idyllwild Arts Academy.

Having graduated from IAA with both academic and music kudos, Luca now attends U.S.C. Thornton School of Music. He recently embarked on program of entrepreneurial study with the Marshall School of Business, in some ways replicating the duality of his father’s interests and career.

Jacaruso told several stories of sharing seminal and transformative musical moments with Luca when his son was young, forging connections that continue today. “We’ve connected at levels that are beyond words, sharing moments of transformational musicality,” he said. “Now it’s about the writing and recording. I play on his stuff and he’ll play on mine. Playing with my son takes things to another level – to see him so invested and in the moment.

“I feel that people are drawn here [to Idyllwild]. I currently work from home, travel to the East coast for business while playing local gigs as my schedule allows. I feel extremely blessed to have a wonderful family, to be a part of this very special community among many other incredibly talented musicians and artists, and to be provided an opportunity to express this side of my duality at this stage of my life. My main goal is to give something back to this community.”

For Jac Jacuruso, “duality” and “family” sum up a life well lived that continues to unfold.